3 C’s of Simple Writing

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“If you want people to do something, make it easy.”

That’s the advice of Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and author of the book, Nudge. That’s good advice if you’re trying to persuade anybody to do anything. It’s great advice if you’re an author and you want readers to keep reading your book and absorbing your message.

If writing is not your day job, you may not have learned the value of simplicity yet. Trust me, though, the best business books get read all the way through because the authors make it easy. Here are three rules for simple writing. They all begin with C, to make it easy for you to remember.

Clear beats clever.

You will be tempted to be clever. You’ll have marvelous ideas for chapter titles and subheads that reveal how clever you can be. You’ll be tempted to use obscure analogies to make your point. Resist those temptations.

If your reader slows down to try to figure out what you’re saying, you failed. If your reader admires your clever style or phrasing, you failed. Anything that distracts the reader from your message is bad.

Concrete beats abstract.

Human beings are wired to understand the concrete. Don’t fight it.

We find abstract ideas harder to understand than concrete examples. Yes, I know, some writing teacher somewhere taught you to describe the abstract principle first and then give examples. You’ll get more understanding more quickly if you reverse that process.

Concrete means something you can see, hear, or touch in real life. Fairy tales don’t tell you that “the woods were dangerous.” Instead, they describe the woods and the wolves that live there.

Conversational beats formal

Imagine that you’re at a backyard get-together or a party at a friend’s house. The way you’d talk to people there is the way to write your book. Simple words and simple sentences.

My advice to you and all my clients is to write like you’d tell it to a friend. Read your writing aloud to help get it right.

Takeaways

Clear beats clever.

Anything that distracts the reader from your message is bad.

Concrete beats abstract.

Human beings are wired to understand the concrete. Don’t fight it.

Conversational beats formal.

Write it like you’d tell it to a friend.

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